The 34-Hour Restart Rule’s Unintended Consequences

A recently released study from the American Transportation Research Institute points out that FMCSA’s 34-hour restart provision had some unexpected…and negative results.

No law is more frustrating and disruptive than the Law of Unintended Consequences. Whenever you think you have an answer to a problem, it’s probably wise to consider what other problems may ensue due to the solving of the original problem. So it is with the 34-hour restart provisions of the hours of service (HOS) rule from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). It’s a major reason why the rule is currently under suspension.

Originally intended to make the roads safer by reducing crash risk, the restart rule seems, instead, to be having a negative impact on motor carrier safety, according to a study released at the end of April by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI). An article in the April 29 edition of truckinginfo.com details the findings of the report. The main finding is that there was a “statistically significant increase in truck crashes after the July 1, 2013 rule change, specifically with injury and tow-away crashes.”

The article quotes the authors of the report – Daniel Murray, Vice President of Research, and Jeffrey Short, Senior Research Associate, both of ATRI – regarding the intention of the rule, “The July 1, 2013 restart rule did, in fact, have the outcome intended by FMCSA; that being the shift of truck trips from nighttime driving to daytime driving.” To get this information, according to the article, ATRI analyzed a truck GPS database to identify changes in travel time-of-day and day-of-week, and they found that besides the shift from evening to daytime, there was also a shift of truck traffic from weekends to weekdays.

This is where the unintended consequences come in…more trucks on the road at exactly the time when more drivers are on the road; when traffic is at its most congested. What could possibly go wrong? One wonders whether this was taken into consideration when the rule was first considered. To be fair, the report considers a number of explanations as to why the increase in crashes may have occurred; what can’t be disputed is that the increase actually did occur and right after the provision was enacted.

So now we all wait. According to an earlier truckinginfo.com article, “FMCSA Still Seeking Drivers for 34-Hour Restart Study,” the agency is looking at restudying the rule, after its suspension at the end of last year. They have as yet to find enough volunteers for the study but are still looking for those who typically use a 34-hour restart period in order to either justify or refute the rule by measuring the operational, safety, health, and fatigue impacts of the provisions.

We’ll all be looking for the results when they occur, but one thing is certain, according to Dean Newell, a member of ATRI’s Research Advisory Committee. “Regulations should serve to improve safety, not create additional safety risks.”

Joe Puff

About Joe Puff

Joe Puff is the Vice President of Truck Technology and Maintenance for NationaLease. He has more than 35 years of experience in complex sales and fleet operations, including extensive experience in commercial vehicle maintenance. Joe is responsible for advising NationaLease members and the National Account team of new truck technology, industry trends, and maintenance best practices.

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